Lela Klein is a fan of people power.
She is a driving force behind the Gem City Market — a co-operative grocery in the works on Salem Avenue — and the Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative - GDUCI.
Klein is helping change the city. We caught up with our latest Daytonian of the Week.
What do you do and how did you get involved in it?
I am a "Cooperativista" (a co-op developer)! I'm trained as a labor lawyer, and I practiced for 7 years. When I moved back to Dayton, I was a union attorney for the IUE-CWA. I began to volunteer in 2015 on a community project aimed at bringing a cooperative grocery store to the food desert in Dayton. As I got more and more involved, I really went down a cooperative rabbit hole. I left my job at the union to co-found the Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative, a non-profit with a goal of developing a network of cooperatives in Dayton, including the grocery store, manufacturing co-ops, and more.
Why do you do it?
I believe that cooperatives — especially worker-owned cooperatives — are a way to strengthen Dayton's economy from the ground up while creating good jobs and needed businesses that are rooted here and accountable to us. We can't rely completely on outside investment to lift up our city. We need to pool our resources and work creatively to counteract decades of divestment, flight of capital, segregation and unequal allocation of resources.
>> RELATED: Daytonian of the Week: Amaha Sellassie
What superpower would you love to have?
Jessica Jones-style strength without the baggage and drinking problem.
What does Dayton need?
More cooperatives! (duh)
What should people know about the Gem City Market?
That this thing is really happening! The momentum over the past couple of months has been incredible. We have over 1,500 members, great turnout at meetings and events, and we're getting closer to breaking ground every day. Together, we will bring a community-owned, 15,000-square-foot conventional grocery store to Salem Avenue — creating 20 to 30 jobs, offering nutrition and cooking classes, and fostering a sense of community with our neighbors. Anyone can shop with us once we open, but to get involved and become a part of the movement, you can get your membership at www.gemcitymarket.com
If you could change or bring one thing to Dayton, what would it be?
I think we need a worker-owned Tiki Bar. (If anyone wants to work on this, I can help!)
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
I envision a Dayton in the future as a city known for a piloting new economic model in the industrial Midwest. We could be the co-op city, like Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. (Worth a Google).
>> Story from the Guardian: Mondragon is Spain's giant co-operative where times are hard but few go bust
What do you love about life in Dayton?
I love the people in Dayton. We have had a tough time of it, but folks are always willing to lend a hand and step up when it's needed. And everyone seems to have a kind of wry, sardonic sense of humor that I love — like there is hidden optimism deep down under a crusty, tattooed, weary exterior. I love my son's Rec Center baseball league because I meet parents from around the city I wouldn't have otherwise met. There is nothing like sitting in the bleachers in the setting sun on a warm day and woefully rooting on your "Bad News Bears" kids with other parents and grandparents. The quiet joy of it crosses race, class, age, neighborhood and experience.
What are your hopes for Dayton?
I really hope that as more development happens downtown and beyond, we can be thoughtful about creating a more equitable and inclusive city and not replicating or further entrenching the segregation we have now in housing and other basic amenities. I hope we all take time to get fluent in cooperatives, land trusts, community benefits agreements, etc.
What’s your favorite hidden Gem in Dayton?
River's Edge Montessori (DPS Preschool-6th). It's got a great school community, teachers, staff and awesome kids. I'm a proud DPS mom.
Why did you decide to settle in Dayton?
I grew up here, with one foot in Dayton (where we lived until I was 8 and where I went to high school) and one foot in Yellow Springs (where I went to elementary and middle school and where my parents still call home). When I turned 18 and left for college, I thought I'd never move back. I had serious wanderlust, living in Connecticut, New York City, North Carolina, Ithaca, Chicago, Boston and D.C. But then I strongly felt the call of home when I was 33 and had my first kid. I couldn't imagine raising a family anywhere else.
What inspires you about Dayton?
Our amazing history of invention and our killer music and art scenes.